Casinos deal under fire in gaming press
A multimillion-dollar casinos deal flagged up as potentially problematic by Bermuda regulators has caught the attention of the overseas gaming press.
GGB News, a weekly online newsletter produced by Nevada-based Global Gaming Business magazine, ran two articles last Friday about the agreement which local firm MM&I Holdings entered into with the Bermuda Government and which was ditched on the advice of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
The deal, and the commission's fear that it remains under consideration by the new government, was revealed by The Royal Gazette in a special report published last month.
One of the GGB articles, an editorial, described the MM&I agreement, which could have earned the company tens of millions of dollars a year for providing a mandatory cashless gaming system to all casinos on the island, as a “sordid affair”.
It said the deal “threatens the reputation Bermuda has been trying to maintain as a respected international centre for finance”.
The opinion piece stated: “It was just a few years ago that politicians in Bermuda realised that casino gaming could bring more tourists to the island nation. They had been watching their fellow tropical island destination resorts make amazing strides in increasing business on those tiny islands.
“But for an island that espouses to be an international finance centre, its actions with regard to gaming is disappointing.”
The article praised Bermuda for setting up an independent gaming commission in order to ensure only the “best upstanding companies” entered the casino industry here. But it criticised elected officials for getting involved in decision-making.
The opinion piece noted that MM&I and its Florida-based partner firm Banyan Gaming “had numerous contacts with government officials since 2013, with the previous government, One Bermuda Alliance, reaching an agreement with MM&I outside of the regulatory framework.
Those connections continue to this day with the new government, run by the Progressive Labour Party.”
It added: “As all progressive regulators will attest, there is no place for interference from elected or appointed officials when it comes to making decisions about casino licences or applications.”
An accompanying news article detailed how tourism minister Jamahl Simmons tried to remove lawyer Alan Dunch as chairman of the gaming commission three times without success, as first revealed by this newspaper.
Mr Dunch has said he has “no current intention of resigning” and that his term of office, by law, does not run out until May 2019.
The GGB editorial said: “[Mr] Dunch is correct that the government has no authority to remove him as chairman and a continued effort to depose him will clearly damage the nation and has already cast a pall over its still nascent gaming industry.”
A British website, Casino Games Pro, also ran a story last week on the MM&I controversy and attempts to oust Mr Dunch.
Meanwhile, the commission chairman stepped into a discussion on social media about how much he was paid for his voluntary role.
A post on Facebook wrongly suggested he picked up $100,000 a year for being chairman, prompting Mr Dunch to respond: “For the record, the annual stipend paid to the position of chairman of the BCGC is $22,000. “That payment goes to the law firm of which I am a director, MJM Limited. I personally receive no direct benefit. When one considers the many hundreds of hours that I have spent thus far, it amounts to a pretty meagre hourly rate.”
Mr Dunch, who was appointed by the late Shawn Crockwell, when the latter was tourism minister, added: “But that is not the real point. I took the job at Shawn's request in the hope that I could make a meaningful contribution to my country. My fellow commissioners and I remain dedicated to that task, although sadly we do not seem to be getting much assistance or support.”
Asked why he didn't resign when it was clear the PLP government wanted to take gaming in a “new” direction without him, he replied: “Not that simple, I'm afraid, but I'll leave it at that for now.”